Deere Acquires Blue River Technology

Deere & Company has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Blue River Technology.  

Deere said it will invest $305 million to fully acquire Blue River Technology, which is based in Sunnyvale, California. The companies have been in discussion about their business relationship since October 2016.

Known for its “See and Spray” technology, Blue River has designed and integrated computer vision and machine learning technology that will enable growers to reduce the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present, optimizing the use of inputs in farming.

“We see precision ag as a key enabler of value for farmers, and our strategy is to be the best at executing on that opportunity with every pass across the field,” says Than Hartsock, John Deere’s Manager, Precision Ag Business. “Machine learning will be a key advancement in helping farmers increase their yields and decrease their costs. Algorithms are able to learn with every pass across a field and get smarter over time.”

Hartsock first saw the technology at work in the field with a lettuce thinning operation, but also cites recent developments at applying the “See and Spray” technology in cotton.

“There’s a purpose for every pass, and particularly with machine learning we see an opportunity to make machines even smarter, easier to use, and more precise. Machine learning paves the way for us to not only manage production by the field and zones with in a field level but manage our production on a plant-to-plant level,” he says.

In 2017, Blue River was listed among Inc. Magazine’s 25 Most Disruptive Companies, Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, CB Insights 100 Most Promising Artificial Intelligence Companies in the World, and the Top 50 Agricultural Innovations by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

For 2018, there will be additional machines using Blue River Technology in the field, but no formal announcement on commercial availability.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with a Blue River Technology team that is highly skilled and intensely dedicated to rapidly advancing the implementation of machine learning in agriculture,” says John May, President, Agricultural Solutions, and Chief Information Officer at Deere. “As a leader in precision agriculture, John Deere recognizes the importance of technology to our customers. Machine learning is an important capability for Deere’s future.”

As an innovation leader, Blue River Technology has successfully applied machine learning to agricultural spraying equipment and Deere is confident that similar technology can be used in the future on a wider range of products, May said. 

 “Blue River is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm management decisions from the field level to the plant level,” says Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of Blue River Technology. “We are using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field.”

May said the investment in Blue River Technology is similar to Deere’s acquisition of NavCom Technology in 1999 that established Deere as a leader in the use of GPS technology for agriculture and accelerated machine connectivity and optimization.

Deere plans to have the 60-person firm remain in Sunnyvale with an objective to continue its rapid growth and innovation with the same entrepreneurial spirit that has led to its success. The transaction is expected to close in September.